ref·​er·​ence | \ ˈre-fərn(t)s How to pronounce reference (audio) , ˈre-f(ə-)rən(t)s \

Definition of reference

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : the act of referring or consulting
2 : a bearing on a matter : relation in reference to your recent letter
3 : something that refers: such as
b : something (such as a sign or indication) that refers a reader or consulter to another source of information (such as a book or passage)
c : consultation of sources of information
4 : one referred to or consulted: such as
a : a person to whom inquiries as to character or ability can be made
b : a statement of the qualifications of a person seeking employment or appointment given by someone familiar with the person
c(1) : a source of information (such as a book or passage) to which a reader or consulter is referred
(2) : a work (such as a dictionary or encyclopedia) containing useful facts or information



Definition of reference (Entry 2 of 3)

: used or usable for reference especially : constituting a standard for measuring or constructing


referenced; referencing

Definition of reference (Entry 3 of 3)

transitive verb

1a : to supply with references
b : to cite in or as a reference
2 : to put in a form (such as a table) adapted to easy reference

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Synonyms for reference

Synonyms: Noun

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Examples of reference in a Sentence

Noun references to an earlier event The numbers were calculated by reference to the most recent census. Reference to a map will make the position clear. She listed her former teacher as a reference when she applied for the job. Her former teacher gave her a reference when she applied for the job. Her teacher gave her a letter of reference. Adjective a list of reference materials Verb The book references many other authors who have written on this topic.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Chat online with a librarian for reference or other questions from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Mary Jane Brewer, cleveland, "Medina County libraries to reopen in phases; more temporary layoffs," 16 May 2020 The puns and pop-culture shout-outs are also fairly clever: An odd jab at the Supreme Court will go over some children’s heads, but thank goodness for a top-notch Chris Hemsworth reference. Brian Truitt, USA TODAY, "Review: 'Scoob!' falls short as an exciting reintroduction to Mystery Inc. and its iconic talking dog," 15 May 2020 Meanwhile over in the U.K., the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under fire for a coronavirus plan that includes less-than-diplomatic references to herd immunity and expected fatalities. David Rovella,, "Your Evening Briefing," 15 May 2020 This valuable reference for tiers is a concise catalog of streamer and bucktail patterns developed over the last century. Mike Valla, Field & Stream, "8 Vintage Streamer Patterns for Trout and Salmon," 14 May 2020 The puns and pop-culture shout-outs are also fairly clever: An odd jab at the Supreme Court will go over some children’s heads, but thank goodness for a top-notch Chris Hemsworth reference. Brian Truitt, Detroit Free Press, "Animated ‘Scooby-Doo’ reboot is hounded by complications," 14 May 2020 Netanyahu interrupted Pompeo to say, an unmistakable reference to the Israeli intelligence services’ track record of developing information of value to the United States. Lara Jakes,, "Pompeo in Israel for meetings on annexation, virus, Iran, and China," 13 May 2020 Many multi-screeners choose to dedicate one screen to communications and work on another, or to keep reference windows open on one while working on another. Popular Science, "Monitors to boost your workday productivity," 13 May 2020 And all references to this season in future years will note the circumstances. Susan Slusser,, "A’s mailbag: Are more injuries likely? Is a new stadium delayed by the stoppage?," 12 May 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The old block won't actually be reclaimed as free space until all snapshots referencing that block have been destroyed! Jim Salter, Ars Technica, "ZFS 101—Understanding ZFS storage and performance," 8 May 2020 Since the Bloomberg article referenced by DeFazio was published on April 16, another ship, the Costa Atlantica, currently in dry-dock in Japan, has had an outbreak among crew members on board. Morgan Hines, USA TODAY, "U.S. Congress announces investigation into Carnival Corp. response to COVID-19 outbreak," 1 May 2020 Steam publisher Valve removed profiles referencing the Christchurch shooting after Kotaku reached out for comment on an article. Cecilia D'anastasio, Wired, "The ADL Calls Out Steam for Giving Extremists a Pass," 30 Apr. 2020 Some are advising employees to take down posts referencing work conditions. Telling the truth now carries fears of retaliation and termination. Jessica Gold, STAT, "Health care workers speaking truth on social media: amplify and protect their voices," 16 Apr. 2020 Strong recalls, referencing the scene where a deranged D'Amico kills the children's birthday party Kick-Ass impersonator in a New York alley. Aaron Couch, The Hollywood Reporter, ""No Studio Would Touch It:" The Big Gamble Behind 'Kick-Ass'," 16 Apr. 2020 Mayor Eric Garcetti said during a news conference Wednesday evening, referencing Tuesday’s death toll of 40. Los Angeles Times, "L.A. County reports 42 more coronavirus deaths, a new single-day high," 15 Apr. 2020 Two days before the commission was set to consider Brodersen's third demolition permit request, Herzog sent Powers a term sheet referencing a $1 million offer transmitted Feb. 6. Jeff Rumage, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "This historic Whitefish Bay mansion will likely be demolished," 15 Apr. 2020 The 79-year-old switched out the third verse of his 1969 hit single for lyrics referencing ways to stay healthy during the coronavirus outbreak. Selena Barrientos, Good Housekeeping, "Neil Diamond Fans Are Obsessed With His New Version of “Sweet Caroline” Amid Coronavirus Outbreak," 23 Mar. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'reference.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of reference


1579, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1856, in the meaning defined above


1876, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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Time Traveler for reference

Time Traveler

The first known use of reference was in 1579

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Statistics for reference

Last Updated

21 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Reference.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 May. 2020.

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More Definitions for reference


How to pronounce reference (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of reference

 (Entry 1 of 3)

: the act of mentioning something in speech or in writing : the act of referring to something or someone
: the act of looking at or in something for information
: a person who can be asked for information about another person's character, abilities, etc.



English Language Learners Definition of reference (Entry 2 of 3)

: used to find information about something
: used to tell people where information can be found



English Language Learners Definition of reference (Entry 3 of 3)

: to mention (something or someone) in speech or in writing : to refer to (something or someone)


ref·​er·​ence | \ ˈre-fə-rəns How to pronounce reference (audio) , ˈref-rəns \

Kids Definition of reference

1 : the act of looking at or in something for information Reference to a map will make our location clear.
2 : a relation to or concern with something I am writing in reference to your advertisement.
3 : the act or an instance of mentioning They made no references to my error.
4 : a work (as a dictionary) that contains useful information
5 : something that refers a reader to another source of information
6 : a person who can be asked for information about another person's character or ability
7 : a written statement about someone's character or ability


ref·​er·​ence | \ ˈref-(ə-)rən(t)s How to pronounce reference (audio) \

Medical Definition of reference

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: of known potency and used as a standard in the biological assay of a sample of the same drug of unknown strength a dose of reference cod-liver oil


Medical Definition of reference (Entry 2 of 2)

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ref·​er·​ence | \ ˈre-frəns, -fə-rəns How to pronounce reference (audio) \

Legal Definition of reference

1 : an act of referring specifically : mention or citation of one document (as a statute) in another a municipality may adopt by reference all or a part of this title Alaska Statutes — see also incorporate
2 : a referral especially to a legislative committee or master also : an order referring a matter to a master the extent to which any party is more responsible than other parties for the reference to a master Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 53(g)

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